Young Hong Kong players to be blooded at Dubai tournament
The hunt for a back three that could spark Hong Kong's 2015 World Cup chances begins in earnest next month in Dubai when the coaching brains' trust looks at a new pool of players at the Emirates Airlines Cup of Nations.
With next year's London Sevens in the picture, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union has decided the core of the team crowned Asian sevens champions at this season's HSBC Asian Sevens Series will not be included in the 28-man squad which will be named tomorrow for the four-nation tournament in Dubai.
"We have left the majority of the sevens squad out of the equation for ECON (Emirates Cup of Nations) as we try to develop players looking ahead to the Asian Five Nations next season," said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of performance Dai Rees. "The A5N will effectively be the start of our 2015 World Cup campaign for if we are relegated from the top tier in 2013, we miss out on playing in the World Cup qualifiers the following year."
With that in mind, the selectors have decided that only flanker Nick Hewson and wingers Salom Yiu Kam-shing and Tom McQueen will be in the frame for selection for the 15s squad for Dubai, where Hong Kong take on Europe's tier two champions Belgium, African champions Zimbabwe and hosts United Arab Emirates.
Among the new crop of backs are Kowloon winger Jonny Rees, Hong Kong Football Club centres Stewart McGraw and Hone Patrick, Valley scrumhalf Kirk Munro and Kowloon fly-half Chris McAdam.
Also returning to the fray will be former Hong Kong captain and centre Tom McColl, who has made himself available for selection after earning his stripes as a pilot with Cathay Pacific.
In the forwards, Kowloon No 8 Matthew Stockdale and Hong Kong Cricket Club backrower Matthew Lamming will also be in the frame for selection. "The key area is the back three. We need to find another batch of players who could fill in next year when the calendar gets crowded with both 15s and sevens commitments," Rees said. "We need to unearth some depth quickly."
While one eye will be on staying in the top tier in the Asian Five Nations, Hong Kong are also ambitiously looking at becoming a core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series. The London Sevens, which falls in the middle of the Asian 15-a-side showpiece, is crucial as it will be in Twickenham that the three new core teams for the 2013-14 season will be unearthed.
"On the one hand we need to make sure we are playing in the World Cup (15s) qualifiers in 2014 while we also make a push to become a core sevens team on the world circuit," Rees said.
The juggling act will be made easier if the new blood of players who have just become qualified to play under the International rugby Board's three-year residency rule, put their hand up in Dubai.